Reading and blogging on the dreams and visions of Gary Johns over the weekend made me think, not for the first time, of one of my favourite little pieces of arcane literature.
When my family emigrated from England in 1967, the Australian Immigration Department gave us a little booklet called Australia: Land of Surprises. This was specifically written for English immigrant children by a person called Carol Odell, with illustrations by Emilie Beuth, to cushion us from the culture shock we would experience in this strange new land. The book opens with a grand promise.
Australia: What does it make you think of first? Kangaroos, sheep and the wide, open spaces? If it does, this book is going to be full of surprises; but, when you have read it, you will know what Australia is really like.
It then lists 31 surprising facts about Australia. Some of these were indeed surprising to us. Some would also have been quite surprising to long-standing Australian residents. Amidst the wonders of inverted seasons, sandy beaches and a warm climate (Surprise Number Five: it is always summer somewhere in Australia) are some absolute gems.
Surprise Number Six: Hardly anyone owns a kangaroo or has one for a pet
Surprise Number Ten: Steak for breakfast.
...Steak, lamb chops or lamb's fry are often eaten for breakfast, usually with fried eggs.
I'm still waiting for mine.
Surprise Number Eighteen: Plays written specially for children.
There are sometimes as many as four plays at a time written and produced specially for children, at different theatres in the cities...
Surprise Number Twenty-Eight: There are no dangerous animals in Australia.
Apart from snakes, that is. And you never see them.
Amidst all this hilarity there are two entries about Aboriginal people. Surprise Number Twenty-Two is relatively innocuous and even partly true: Aborigines paint on bark instead of paper.